15-and-under AAU team will head to National Championships July 26

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 18, 2002

For the Virginia Knights of the 15-and-under AAU baseball league, winning certainly isn’t everything. &uot;We do not stress individual statistics during interviews or articles,&uot; reads the team’s informational booklet. &uot;We stress teamwork. This season has been dedicated to developing all 13 players to be prepared to play in the National Champion-ships.&uot;

The team will head to Kingsport, Tenn. on July 26 to do battle with 59 of America’s other top teams.

But even without the pressure to be the best, says Michael Pilkerton, being a Knight is as tough as any team of which he’s ever been a part.

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&uot;The school system is competitive,&uot; admits Pilkerton, a two-year veteran of the Lakeland High School junior varsity baseball team who hopes to make it to the varsity in 2002-3, &uot;but when you’re out here, you’re playing against the best players in the area.&uot;

Jason Rock, who compiled a 5-1 record in his freshman year at Nansemond-Suffolk Academy last season, knows that continuing his success at the Nationals will be difficult.

&uot;There are better hitters in the AAU than there were in the TCIS,&uot; says Rock. &uot;But my age makes me feel confident. When I was pitching for NSA, I was throwing against seniors older than me. But here, I’m the oldest one on the field.&uot;

The team, currently ranked 10th in the country, is made up of players from nine different high schools, including NSA, Lakeland, and Nansemond River. All of the Knights play on their school teams. In 60 days, the team will play 40 games and hold 15 practices. The last game was a 12-1 defeat of Great Bridge last weekend, and they’ll play four games at Lakeland on Saturday and Sunday (the Saturday games will begin at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., and the Sunday games at noon and 2 p.m., respectively).

In 2001, the Knights went to the National Invitational (NIT) championship in Orlando, Fla. They made it through three elimination rounds before falling to the Travis Texas Braves in the title game.

By finishing second, the team qualified for this year’s Nationals. Pilkertson and shortstop Jeff Cooper are confident about the Knights’ chances.

&uot;I think we’re better than we were last year,&uot; says Pilkerton. &uot;We’ll be competitive.&uot;

Cooper was another member of the NSA team. &uot;We’ve got a good chance,&uot; he says. &uot;I expect a top 10 finish. Of the best high schools in the area, we’ve got a few of their best players.&uot;